(Thanks to Chris H for this photo of me in Foxy Lady Mode)
Sometimes, strange creatures are encountered at the crossroads of our lives…
Fox appears at dawn, pointing at potential danger on the snow-trembling lip of my cave’s wide mouth. Fresh fall of flakes whirl in forlorn whispers outside.
Huddled in my cocoon of warm pelts, I gaze in wonder at my unexpected visitor – and then laugh aloud: His coat, though winter-thin and showing the starkness of ribs, is the exact shade of my hair before The Enchantress wove me into her vengeful tapestry of dull white strands, hooped spine and endless bone pain.
The creature, though alert and watchful, does not, as I half-expected him to, turn bushy tail and flee upon sighting me – and this melts a tiny icicle in my heart. For I have become accustomed, over the past few years, to the sight of people running from me as fast as their legs could go.
Some days I have wept, though tears solve nothing and have no effect upon the watcher.
Why, prithee, are only the beautiful and youthful entitled to the full gamut of human rights? Why do so many sectors of society labour under the painful yoke of invisibility? Those who are old, ill, disfigured, white of hair and wrinkled of skin merit only a sliding away of eyes – and a mountain of erroneous assumptions.
Fox’s eyes are golden, calm, filled, it seems, with ancient wisdom and wild instinct. His whiskers tremble in cold air and plumes of breath shroud the cave’s entrance.
Will he let me approach?
I hold out my hand, make a little clicking noise in my throat, say, ‘Here, boy. Come here, my lovely…’
And, as I say it, I realise the extent to which my curse has deprived me of human contact. Not just love and sex, but hugs and cuddles and affectionate warmth. I see the full extent of my punishment: Old people are the comforters after all, aren’t they? They are the bestowers of gift and nurture and safety. Ugly people rarely get touched – as if the accident of physical flaws were a contagious disease to be avoided at all costs.
My throat closes around a rhyne of tears, determined to dam them up.
Fox pads towards me. I can smell him now: His strong earthy musk; the hint of air and snow; his meaty breath; the lovely scent, under it all, of living animal fur. I am barely breathing, not wanting to break the spell. He is wild, after all, and wary. He could bite. He could run away and leave me. He could be hallucination sent by the perverse Gods of Loneliness.
I put out a shaking hand. A sign of trust and fellowship. I feel the warmth of breath on my palm as he sniffs me, then, in an exultant moment, his rough tongue rasping a quick lick on my flesh.
I touch his neck, begin to stroke. He lets me! By all that is miraculous, he is permitting this contact. I feel so honoured that the tears flow unchecked. I can feel little ridges under his pelt, places where old wounds have healed leaving scar tissue. I can see open cuts on his legs and side where more recent hurts have marked him.
I cannot understand why he is permitting this – but his trust touches me deeply. Perhaps he, like me, is a lonely soul in need of a mother’s touch. Perhaps the vixen which bore him who knows how long ago died too soon, and he did not receive the milk and nuzzling of motherly love. Perhaps he, too, is empty and needy.
I close my eyes and feel his body making a little leap onto my lap, a welcome weight of russet-coloured friendship. He fidgets, turns around a few times, settles. I feel the gentle rising and falling of thin ribs and a soft contented breathing. My hand moves in regular sweeps across the fur and my sore knees and thighs blossom into a brief pain-free trance under the animal’s body.
I understand that he is both himself and Messenger from beyond. That his arrival during a blizzard is no coincidence, but a sign. And, curiously, I have no doubt that, once the storm abates, he will lead me to where I need to be next.
For, inside the pain-racked form I now wear, I am – and always have been – Foxy Lady.